Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Is Worship?

We’re used to calling the church’s main Sunday gathering a worship service. But what do we mean by worship? Is it worship to listen to a preacher? Is it worship to sit and listen to others singing or performing on instruments? Is it even worship when we sing songs about our faith, or our devotion to God?

All of these things may have a place in our weekly gathering, but they don’t really define worship in a Biblical sense. Some have tried to define the word worship by breaking it up into its component parts — worth-ship, that is, ascribing worth to God. That’s fine, for as God’s people we should be doing that. Just one problem: the Bible wasn’t written in English, so using the English dictionary definition or etymology doesn’t really help to get at biblical insights.

Worship, in the Bible, has a particular meaning. The two words translated as worship in the English Bible are the Hebrew hishtachavah and the Greek proskuneo. Both words mean to bow down or to fall prostrate. They refer to the act of homage and loyalty one pays to a King or other high authority. One is worshiping when he is bowing down to acknowledge the superiority and power of Another.

There may be times when it’s appropriate to bow down in our worship, and bowing is practiced in some churches. But the main point is the concept behind bowing down, which is to exalt the Lord and enthrone Him as our Sovereign. If our Sunday gathering doesn’t exalt the Lord, then it isn’t really worship.

So when we sing, we should be singing about Him and His greatness, and not about us and our faith or devotion. In fact, we should be singing to Him, telling Him of our love and our praise. A worshiping congregation is one that talks to God and sings to God, and not just to each other.

Worship isn’t a performance we watch, but a meeting with our God who has rescued us through His Son. The risen Christ is present, the Lord God and the Lamb are dwelling in the temple of their holy people. We enter into his presence not to be entertained but to bow down — literally or figuratively — before Him.

Therefore, when we leave the church on Sunday, our response is not, “The choir did a great job” or “The worship leader blew it today” or “I enjoyed the sermon” or “I didn’t like the music they picked.” The only relevant question is, “Did I meet God today, and did I express to Him my love and adoration and loyalty?”

Worship. Think about it.

First published in ReUnion, newsletter of Union Congregational Church, North Aurora, Illinois, October 2004.